This week I began a complete reading of Messiaen's book The Technique of My Musical Language. It filled me with ideas I'm eager to try. So far it's mainly dealt with rhythm, and I decided to use some of those techniques this week. After a few failed attempts, I ended up with Tides, which is a superimposition of two non-retrogradable rhythm sequences. The treble staff is a rhythm that is seventeen eighth notes in duration, while the bass staff rhythm is twenty eighth notes in total duration. Therefore, they begin together, and then are staggered as the keep repeating. It worked out that the piece needed to be forty two and a half measures long to allow all relationships between the two rhythms to occur. Following that, the rhythms would line up as they did at the beginning.
The oddest things about the rhythm of Tides are the rests and the duration of the last notes of the phrases. For example, beat three in the first measure would naturally be written as a quarter note followed by a single sixteenth rest on beat four. It would make it easier to read and wouldn't be much different in sound. But I decided to stay true to my rhythm sequences.
The pitch material of Tides also uses some of Messiaen's techniques. The treble staff melody is composed of one of the transpositions of Messiaen's mode two, which is the diminished, or octotonic scale. The bass staff is composed of one of the transpositions of Messiaen's mode one, which is the whole-tone scale. He says that this mode should be avoided because of Debussy's extensive use of it. However, he says it's tolerable when used alongside other modes and techniques, which is what I did.
The problem with Tides is the playing and recording of it. This was not easy. I'm not happy with my recording. I'd like it to be faster and mistake free, and I failed to play all the rests accurately. But again I ran out of time. It will have to suffice. I didn't improvise on this recording. I figured it was enough without it.
I'm happy with the fact that although I used Messiaen's techniques for every aspect of this piece, it really doesn't sound like Messiaen. I find that encouraging. More experimentation with superimposed rhythms will no doubt be happening. Hopefully something easier to play will result.
I leave you with a quote from The Technique of My Musical Language:
Let us think now of the hearer of our modal and rhythmic music; he will not have time at the concert to inspect the nontranspositions and the nonretrogradations, and, at that moment, these questions will not interest him further; to be charmed will be his only desire. And that is precisely what will happen; in spite of himself he will submit to the strange charm of impossibilities : a certain effect of tonal ubiquity in the nontransposition, a certain unity of movement (where beginning and end are confused because identical) in the non retrogradation, all things which will lead him progressively to that sort of theological rainbow which the musical language, of which we seek edification and theory, attempts to be.